Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Ciudad Rodrigo - Peninsular War Tour 2019

No exploration of the key battle sites of the six year long Peninsular War would be complete without the inclusion of some of the key fortified cities and smaller forts that controlled the main routes of access across the Iberian Peninsula and required capturing and holding by the combatants to secure their hold on the areas they dominated.

Any student of the war will be very familiar with names such as Badjoz, Almeida, Elvas, Fort Concepcion and Burgos to name but a few of these key places, all of which were on the JJ Tour list, but one city, missing off that list, that just has to be included, is that of the Spanish city of Ciudad Rodrigo.

Together with its larger sister city, Badajoz, further south on the Spanish side of the border with Portugal, these two fortified cities opposed to their Portuguese opposites, Almeida and Elvas, controlled the two principle routes into and out of Portugal, and together were known as 'The Keys to Spain' denoting their importance in any campaign wishing to proceed across that border.

A contemporary picture of of the city of Ciudad Rodrigo in the distance, from near the village of Espeja, close to the Portuguese border and with some of Julian Sanchez's, 'El Charro', Spanish guerrillas watering their horses - Thomas St. Clair 

As with my look at the battle of Salamanca where I used Rory Muir's book as a principle source to guide the walk,


here I am using, in the main,Tim Saunder's excellent book, 'The Sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo 1810 and 1812' as reviewed recently here on JJ's as part of my pre-holiday reading list.


All fortified positions will inevitably have their weak points, that will be obvious to attacker and defender alike, with the latter forced to try and minimise the weakness and the former looking to exploit it.

Cross section of the north-west corner defences facing the Great Teson and illustrating the various parts of the defence - taken from Saunder's

The weakness in the defences of Ciudad Rodrigo lay in the two areas of high ground to the north of its walls known as the Great and Little Teson (see map below) which, if taken, allowed an attacker to bring men and guns close to the defences whilst also allowing the height of the Great Teson to somewhat overcome the glacis and ditch protecting the main wall, by allowing the guns to fire over and into them.

As we will see, on both of the occasions the city came under siege, by both the French and Allied armies, the same position would be selected to initiate the bombardment, causing a major breach on the same section of wall.

To create a 'practicable' breach the gunners were looking to strike both the top of the wall and the fausse-braye to cause rubble to collapse into the two moats, creating a manageable gradient up which assaulting troops could move over the obstacles and gain entry to the defences. Any sharp drops would be mitigated by using fascines of hay-bails or ladders, whilst the defenders would try to create defences of new obstacles and gun lines in or behind the breaches or place gunpowder mines under them.

The French Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo 1810

The first attempt at seeing a change of management in Ciudad Rodrigo during the Peninsular War occurred in the winter of 1810 with the ending of the Talavera campaign the previous summer, that saw Marshal Jourdan replaced by Marshal Soult as King Joseph's military adviser and then with him ordered off to Andalusia to bring the southern province under Napoleonic control.

With the allies very much on the back foot following the massive territorial gains made by French armies and the failure of Wellington and Cuesta to cooperate to destroy Victor's I Corps, the time seemed right for the French to attempt to simply overawe the remaining areas still holding out against their rule, Ciudad Rodrigo being one of them.

Marshal Michel Ney, Duke of Elchingen, later Prince of the Moscova

So Marshal Ney was ordered by Soult to follow our route from Salamanca to the city and to take possession of it using his half starved VI Corps, still suffering, following the pursuit of Sir John Moore into Galicia and then being practically ejected from the province following a particularly harrowing period of anti-partisan warfare.

The hope was that, following Ney's summoning together of his Corps from its cantonments and marching the sixty miles to the city, the demoralised garrison would surrender without the need for a formal siege.

In summary, taking three days to march to Cuidad Rodrigo, instead of the hour's drive for us, with just ten days worth of rations and forty cartridges per man in their cartouches, Ney arrived before the city walls on the 11th February 1810 and summoned the city to acknowledge King Joseph as their new monarch and to open the gates.

The ageing but determined Spanish garrison commander
General Andres Perez de Herrasti

In reply the feisty General Herrasti tersely rejected the summons, stating;

"I have sworn to defend this place for the legitimate sovereign, Don Fernando VII, until the last drop of my blood: this I am determined to do along with the entire garrison and the inhabitants. This is the only proposition I am able to make to you."

A modern day satellite view of the city with key sites around it identified and the Great and Little Tesons seen dominating the northern wall

Marshal Ney had to content himself with firing at the city from the Great Teson with his Corps artillery, causing some fires with his howitzers, firing one-hundred shells on the town, while his infantry pressed forward to the walls to make a show of it.

In return the Spanish guns replied in kind, engaging both the French guns and infantry, supported by their infantry firing from the walls and with Julian Sanchez, 'El Charro', and his mounted guerrillas, adding to the French discomfit by attacking Ney's cavalry.

After a day of getting nowhere fast, Ney called the demonstration off and returned to Salamanca with nothing to show for his efforts except casualties and used up valuable food supplies, not to mention the additional drop in morale for the overstretched troops of VI Corps.

A similar satellite view this time focused on key parts of the city and its defences 

The next time French troops appeared before the walls of the city, the approach would be much more measured and systematic, with a formal siege process established and the necessary troops and artillery at hand to enforce their demands if necessary.

Plaza Herrasti in front of the badly battered cathedral of Ciudad Rodrigo, in memory of the Spanish
Governor at the time of the two French attacks and later siege of the city in 1810 

Wellington knew full well as he pulled his battered army back over the border into Portugal in the late summer, early autumn of 1809 that if, as likely, Austria succumbed to the Emperor and his armies, the next objective for the French would be to eject the British from Portugal in 1810 and finally secure the whole of Europe under Imperial control.

When Austria was finally dealt with and the Fifth Coalition ended on the 14th October 1809, Napoleon was able to turn his attention to the British problem and the Peninsular.

The Emperor, at first, planned to lead the campaign himself, at the head of an army of 100,000 troops, but other domestic issues complicated matters, in that his need to secure his dynasty required a male heir, something his marriage to Empress Josephine for fourteen years had failed to produce.

Marshal Andre Massena, 1st Duc de Rivoli, 1st Prince d'Essling, forced out of his planned retirement,
would somewhat reluctantly lead the Army of Portugal in 1810 to eject British forces from mainland Europe.

With the conclusion of the war with Austria and the Treaty of Schonbrunn proclaiming mutual friendship between the two former enemies, and now with his marriage to Josephine dissolved following her agreement to a divorce on the 10th January 1810, Napoleon was focused on claiming the fruits of his victory with a marriage to the 19 year old Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria in March 1810 and with the nuptials that followed, in his endeavours to secure his line.

Thus Napoleon would remain in Paris and hand over his plan of campaign for dealing with the British to his brother, King Joseph and Marshal Andre Massena, 1st Prince d'Essling, forced out of retirement with promises of full Imperial support for his mission to Spain and Portugal.

Napoleon's plan selected the route via Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida as the most practical one for the French to take, given that all the others had been utterly ravaged in the preceding two years by other French armies leaving them unfit to support a French army used to living of the land, of its enemies and allies, to supplement its supplies.

However the supply complications in the Peninsular had been recognised by Napoleon and so his plan envisaged the Army of Portugal being provisioned with a supply chain connected via depots, leading across Spain from Bayonne through Burgos, Salamanca and to the fortress city of Ciudad Rodrigo, which would act as the forward operating base, as the army pushed on into Portugal.

These bases along the supply route would also allow the garrisons in each to provide troops to secure it against the numerous and growing bands of Spanish partisans, but with the first problem being to put the last city on that list under French management, hence Napoleon making it quite clear to Massena that he must first secure the city before pressing on into Portugal and tackling the British.

I say 'British' because at this point of the planning process the French were entirely unaware of the retraining and reequipping of the Portuguese army and thus were only expecting to chase 20-25,000 British troops back to their ships for an embarkation from Lisbon as per their previous experience with Sir John Moore's army at Corunna.

The army Marshal Massena commanded was composed of three corps, Marshal Ney's VI Corps (30,000 men), General Junot's VIII Corps (17,000 men) and General Reynier's II Corps (14,000 men), 61,000 men, a little short of the 100,000 men promised.

In addition to these troops, Massena commanded a siege train of some fifty pieces of heavy artillery, together with its transport and ammunition that had been gathered together in the previous year at Burgos and Valladolid.

With all the necessary pre-campaign preparations required, from building bread ovens in Salamanca to capturing the walled city of Astorga, close to the area of operations, that fell on the 22nd April 1810, it was not until the last week of May that Massena's army was able to head west towards Ciudad Rodrigo.

General Herrasti personally sighting one of the city's heavy guns during the French siege of Ciudad Rodrigo
 Dionisio Alvarez Cueto

The time taken over French preparations in the spring of 1810 puzzled Wellington, but the longer the French put off coming to grips with his forces the better, as it allowed the Allied army to complete its preparations for the defence of Portugal, with Wellington commenting to General Craufurd;

"I don't know whether the state of tranquillity in which affairs have been for some time is advantageous to the French but I know that is highly so for us."

Ney's VI Corps marched from Salamanca on the 25th April and was once again before the walls of Ciudad Rodrigo on the 30th, with General Junot's VIII Corps close by, deployed as a corps of observation to monitor the British along the banks of the River Azaba.

Our hotel for our two night stay in the city was the marvellous Parador Hotel created within the castle of the city

General Herrasti's garrison was around 8,000 troops, but only a quarter were regular army together with 800 artillerymen.

The city Junta had been busy preparing for defence with the bulk of the garrison composed of locally raised volunteers and militia and and with work completed to turn the outlying Convents of San Francisco and Santa Cruz into defended works together with the outer suburbs.

However by the time of Ney's arrival before the walls, Herrasti claims that sickness had reduced his garrison to 5,500 effectives including 800 men of Don Julien Sanchez's band of guerrillas of whom 200 were mounted.

It was a real thrill to carry my cases from the car and to make my way into such a famous building

The French investment of the city proved to be a slow process, given the unseasonably heavy rainfall experienced in May, described by Chef de Battalion Jean Pelet, Marshal Massena's senior aide;

Marshal Massena's senior staff officer, Chef de Battalion (Major) Jean Pellet

"The army corps suffered to an exceptional degree during the entire siege, and from the very beginning water gushed out everywhere, even on the highest ground. Soldiers were in the mud and exposed to almost continual rain and extreme variations in hot and cold."

The conditions delayed the arrival of the siege train and the lack of cooperation between the French general officers exacerbated the problems, seeing General Junot's refusal to release VIII Corps carts to aid in the bringing forward of the tools required by the engineers and other essential supplies, despite a direct order to do so from Massena.

Alongside these problems, Sanchez's guerrillas regularly descended on and attacked French outposts and foraging parties as the country was stripped bear of any remaining food, seeing the French bread ration reduced to a quarter ration and the horses without grain, forced to survive on green forage alone.

The old main door, suitably fitted out to welcome modern day tourists

Meanwhile, Herrasti conducted an active defence, sending out regular sorties from the wall designed to interrupt and delay French working parties for as long as possible.

Map illustrating the proximity of the Light Division positions to the French siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, behind the River Azaba, with British cavalry patrols in contact with the garrison until the investment surrounded it. Note Espeja shown from where the contemporary picture by St. Clair was drawn, as seen at the top of the post.

The first French activities were concentrated on cutting the city off from the outside and, too this end, the French engineers set about constructing two trestle bridges above and below the Roman bridge to allow the easy passage of their troops from one side of the Agueda to the other, thus completing the investment of the city.

Also during this first week in June, the British outposts pushed up close to the French lines and the city, seeking to observe French progress and bolster the resolve of the defenders.

Lieutenant Jonathan Leach 1/95th Rifles

Lieutenant Jonathan Leach of the 1st Battalion, 95th Rifles noted;

We were stationed so close to the outposts of the French as to render it necessary for the soldiers to sleep fully accoutered, and the officers consequently with their clothes on, ready to get under arms in an instant, and we were, as a matter of course, always under arms one hour before break of day.

In short, the French cavalry were eternally in motion, in large bodies, towards our chain of posts, and we as often under arms waiting for them."

The reception area is a former courtyard within the main gate door, now roofed with a glass cover to create a
spacious air conditioned hallway leading to the rooms, bars, dining room and castle tower function room

The French deployed their best marksmen in the Chasseurs de Siege, where
their skill at arms was required to pin down Spanish defenders

With their investment of the city complete the next stage of French preparations was to eliminate the convent strongpoint of Santa Cruz which was in a position to enfilade French trenches on the Teson, (see the map above) which after a surprise attack by Ney's elite corps, the 100 men of the Chasseurs de Siege, supported by other voltigeur and grenadier companies, saw Santa Cruz taken on the 9th June, only to be retaken by the garrison after artillery fire from the city wall made the position untenable to the French troops.

The seemingly slow progress in French operations in and around the city continued to surprise Wellington, expecting a lightning advance into Portugal once the French had gathered near the border, perhaps leaving covering forces to monitor the garrisons in their wake.

Wellington wrote to a number of correspondents stating;

"This is not the way in which they have conquered Europe."

Finally, after two weeks before the walls, with the Spanish strongholds still in place and countered by the French building three of their own fleche emplacements equally spaced along the forward slope of the Greater Teson, and two others flanking the Convent of Santa Cruz down to the banks of the Agueda, the French broke ground on the 15th June 1810, following the line marked by the French engineers to start the first parallel.

Enduring dreadfully wet conditions that continued to impede progress together with Spanish harassing fire, six batteries of guns were in position by the 21st of June.

Chef de Battalion Constantin recorded details of the construction;

"The first five nights were spent perfecting the parallel and the communication trenches. They were ten feet wide at the bottom, three feet deep, and had four foot parapets with two banquettes (fire steps). On 18 June, the parallel was extended on the left by a 120-yard reverse after the enemy attempted a sortie to seize it. General Eble located and determined the emplacement of the batteries on the 17th and the work was completed only during the night of the 19th to the 20th. At first there were six in number."

On the night of 23rd/24th June the French made a second attack on the Santa Cruz Convent and failed to take the position after severe fighting, leaving a few men of the 3rd Battalion, Avilla Regiment in possession of it.

General Herrasti wrote in his diary;

"The night was full of glory for us, and they paid dearly for the single barbaric satisfaction they gained in burning some buildings at the Convent of Santa Cruz."

At 04.00 on the 24th June forty-six heavy guns in six batteries opened fire on the city wall and its defences, two nights earlier than had been agreed between Marshal's Ney and Massena, apparently down to the former's desire to try and force the city into an early capitulation without any involvement of the latter, and thus be able to claim the glory for its fall, indicating the ever growing rift between the two French generals.

Chef de Battalion Jean Pellet recorded the opening of the French barrage;

"At dawn, every battery opened fire at the same time with all forty-six of their guns. At first the city appeared disconcerted. Initially it replied with rather sporadic and uncertain fire; later there was a more intense fire from a number of guns which were superior to ours and of a large calibre. 

Soon guns were firing vigorously from both sides and the noise was terrible. Those who had never before seen a siege believed that everything would be destroyed. Nevertheless, there was little result on either side. 

In our camp, the first day resulted in a few accidents occasioned by our haste in opening fire. A small powder magazine for the batteries, not sufficiently covered, had exploded, resulting in a loss of a few men."

In fact the 'small explosion' described by Pelet, wasn't quite so small, with a shell igniting the magazine between batteries five and six, detonating some 900 lbs of gunpowder, flattening the two batteries' protective parapets, killing twelve gunners and wounding forty-two and silencing battery number six.

In the city the inhabitants were subjected to almost 600 high explosive shells landing among the buildings, causing multiple fires, killing 150 and wounding another 500 of the population.

The interior of the castle is beautifully fitted out as befits a modern hotel, but keeping all the character of the original building 

The next night, on the 25th June, the French again attacked and this time took the Convent of Santa Cruz with 300 grenadiers, leaving half of them to garrison the ruins of the badly battered buildings, just 150 yards away from the city wall.

The battering from the French guns would continue for another three and half days, with the Spanish continuing to fire back, dismantling French guns and launching occasional sorties against the attackers, until on the afternoon of the 28th June, Ney and his aides declared to Massena that a 'tentative' breach had been made and a speculative letter of summons was sent into the fortress;

"His Highness the Prince of Essling ... has ordered me to make this last summons. I am pleased to render justice to your fine defence and to the courage that the troops of your garrison have shown but these efforts, always recognised by the French army, will destroy you if you continue your defence much longer.

If you hoped to be aided by the English, you are deceived. How could you fail to realise that this had been their intention, under no condition would they have permitted Ciudad Rodrigo to be reduced to such a deplorable condition?

You have a choice between honourable capitulation and the terrible vengeance of a victorious army."

Carolyn, post dinner, leads the way up some very steep stairs to the tower function room and battlements for a glorious view out over the city

The Junta, with Herrasti's advice that the breach was still not yet practicable, rejected the summons and the French aides returned to their lines with tales from their discussions, mixed with their mis-information delivered to Spanish officers, that the British reticence to come to their aid combined with diminishing supplies, was undermining the garrison's morale, and that they were unlikely to continue the struggle much longer, and could only hold out for possibly another four to five days.

However as the days subsequently passed, with continued resistance and no sign of the expected signal of capitulation, Ney's troops were forced to dig deep into their own reserves as they took out their frustration on the city with an even more ferocious round of bombardments.

Pelet recorded;

"Our firing continued with some success, and the Prince ordered it to be increased. We fired vigorously and by salvos. I visited the entire trench network. It was not very safe anywhere, but the enemy appeared to be demoralised ... They fired occasionally with a few guns or howitzers."

However despite the increased vigour of French firing, the city refused to surrender and French ammunition supplies were becoming stretched with just 600 rounds left for the 18 and 24 lbr guns, with a resupply due, but forcing a reduction in the tempo of the firing until it arrived.

By the end of June, Massena had lost patience with the conduct of the siege and replaced VI Corps engineers and artillery commanders with his own officers, directing efforts to reduce the Convent of San Francisco with an additional two batteries to subdue it and the nearby suburbs, and on the 1st July the convent fell to an attack by 600 French troops lead by General Simon, clearing the post with just the loss of a handful of casualties.

The following night, the suburbs were cleared of the enemy by Ney's troops, launching their attack from the convent.

These efforts enabled new battery positions to be constructed and the French trenches to be extended still closer the glacis slope. In addition the French began to tunnel under the defences to build an 800 lb gunpowder mine under the forward drop of the moat to reduce the vertical drop and improve the gradient still further.

On the 9th of July the mine was blown, demolishing a section of the counterscarp and reducing the depth of the moat with a rubble ramp.

The breach was now practicable and the storming of it was imminent.

That night the French kept up a disruptive bombardment to prevent the Spanish from making repairs and retrenchments around the breach, and at dawn on the 10th July the French guns resumed their bombardment with the Spanish flag still flying over the battlements.

French sappers wearing trench armour
General Loison had gathered his 100 men storming party to follow close behind the fifty engineers wearing trench armour, all followed by the the remnants of the Chasseur de Siege and 150 French infantrymen with digging tools.

Behind this first group another column was organised to follow up and move through the breach.

Corporal Thirion of the 50th Grenadiers lead two comrades into the breach to test its practicability for a French assault.
The Spanish surrendered at that point.

By mid afternoon the guns fell silent and Pelet was ordered to take three infantrymen to the foot of the breach and send them up it to prove the route. The three men seemingly faced certain death and are said to have been chosen from one hundred volunteers.

The three man scouting party duly made their way forward and up on to the breach and, not receiving a single shot, they came back down unharmed with shouts of 'Peace' with the Spanish garrison surrendering soon after.

General Herrasti left his assessment of the situation;

"Our fire and resistance was exhausted, we no longer had any hope of aid, and the enemy had reduced the breach to a state such that the assault could be delivered."

Pelet recorded his experience of the surrender;

"I climbed on the parapet of the trench and saw the white flag beside the breach. I ran to announce the news to the Prince, since he was on the Teson where he could not see the flag very well.

Others arrived ahead of me, but I presented my three heroes."

Marshal Massena entered the city the next day, ordering an immediate inventory of the captured arms and equipment, finding the captured shot, shells and powder a useful addition to his supplies, but little else, with 269 wagons captured intact but with no animals to draw them and food stocks sufficient for only a short time.

During the seventy-two day siege, Spanish losses are estimated at 2,000 soldiers and civilians and some 4,000 were made prisoners.

French casualties were lighter with just 180 killed and about 1,000 wounded.

Herrasti expressed his feelings in a letter to the Spanish Minister of War on the 30th July;

"The valour, the fortitude and the sacrifices of the garrison and the inhabitants deserve a better fate. They have had the misfortune of not being supported by the arms of our allies after defending themselves during such a long siege with firmness and vigour."

In the distress General Herrasti was no doubt feeling at the time he wrote his report, he can be forgiven perhaps for not being able to appreciate the greater implications the siege would have on the outcome of the French campaign to invade and occupy Portugal that year and the war as a whole; together with the very practical reasons why Wellington would and could not risk offering battle to a superior French force with a greater number of cavalry in terrain that offered his army no benefits for doing so and with his back to the River Coa.

Wellington described the situation succinctly on the 29th June, with the siege making slow progress, when he wrote;

"Ciudad Rodrigo is making a capital defence, and I only regret that the enemy have collected such a force that it is impossible for me to attempt the relief of the place."

Those seventy days would ensure the defences of Lisbon would be even stronger than they would otherwise have been and would ensure that Spain would still have allies in the field in 1811 and beyond.

Hotel guests have free access to the tower battlements offering glorious views out over the city and the countryside beyond

The Allied Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo 1812

The city of Ciudad Rodrigo would endure almost eighteen months of French occupation that would see the initiative in the Peninsular War turn from the French to the Allies following the defeat and withdrawal of Marshal Massena's Army of Portugal from before Lisbon and his subsequent replacement by Marshal Marmont.

The situation saw Ciudad Rodrigo key to helping the French keep Wellington and his Anglo-Portuguese army contained within and on the Portuguese border, not being able to risk pushing into Spain to contest the ground with Marmont's army, all the while the fortress city lay behind and on his line of communications with Lisbon.

Wellington's Chief Gunner - Commander of the Reserve Artillery,
Major (later Lt. Colonel) Alexander Dickson

In the preceding time Wellington amassed his own siege train, which, after the failed attempts to take Badjoz in 1811, had exposed the weakness of using old refashioned Portuguese cannon scrounged from their border fortresses and the need to obtain iron 24 lbr guns courtesy of the Royal Navy all under the able command of Major Alexander Dickson.

Indeed as early as the 19th of July 1811, Wellington had met with both Dickson and Lieutenant Colonel Richard Fletcher commanding the Royal Engineers to outline his planned offensive, ordering Dickson to go personally to Oporto to oversee the safe passage of the siege train and the two companies that were to man it.

Guns brought by sea from England and others from Lisbon and Oporto, were gathered at Villa de Ponte, together with thousands of mules and oxen to provide transport and in mid November 1811 Dickson was informed that Ciudad Rodrigo would be the first target.

On the 2nd of November the British became aware of a French column marching from Salamanca to the city, as Lieutenant George Simmons of the 95th Rifles recorded;

"Information had been received that a body of French troops were escorting a new Governor to Rodrigo. The Light Division moved towards the fortress this morning and the 3rd Division also made a forward movement to support us to Fuenteguinaldo. 

It soon was ascertained that the Governor had entered it, as the enemy were in bivouac two leagues in the rear. Their purpose being effected, they returned to Salamanca."

The old Roman bridge across the Agueda meets the road directly under the main wall of the castle, with the Portuguese border beyond

The new French governor was General de Brigade Jean Leonard Barrie, seemingly reluctant to take the position, seeing it as a poisoned chalice in light of the likelihood of it facing an imminent siege.

However, on his appointment, work focused on bringing the defences into a better state of preparation with repairs to the battered convents of Santa Cruz and San Francisco and the defended suburbs, with the addition of a redoubt on the forward slope of the Great Teson designed to impede any attempts to construct siege works there, and named Fort Renaud after Barrie's predecessor.

Looking out across the city from the castle tower with the cathedral spire left-centre

During the autumn of 1811, Allied troops kept a loose blockade of the city, with efforts made to prevent local peasants from supplying the garrison with additional foodstuffs, directing them instead to the Allied Commissary.

In addition, close attention was paid on monitoring the movements of French units out of the Peninsular with particular notice taken of two divisions of Guard detached from General Dorsenne's command, soon followed by veteran Polish units pulled back into France in preparation for the Emperor's worst kept secret and his growing tensions with Russia. Then Marmont's army saw a draw down of troops as he was ordered to redeploy units in support of the success Suchet was having on the East Coast.

With all these developments, the chances of Wellington being able to make a successful move against Ciudad Rodrigo improved with each month.

Then on the 18th December 1811, Wellington issued his orders detailing 1st, 3rd, 4th and Light Divisions together with General Pack's brigade to be employed making facines and gabions and preparing pickets, all to be overseen by Lt. Colonel Fletcher of the Engineers.

Lieutenant Robert Knowles of the 7th Fusiliers wrote home that:

"Detachments from each regiment in the 4th Division are employed making gabions and facines for the erection of batteries and the battering train have orders to be in readiness to march at an hour's notice."

On the 1st January 1812 Wellington issued his orders for operations against Ciudad Rodrigo.

Our room balcony, over the gardens above the Roman bridge with a magnificent view towards the Portuguese border and the wall and scarp on the river side of the city as seen below

Wellington was taking a gamble by striking quickly, despite the fact that at least another two weeks was required to complete all the preparations, and when all the mortar and howitzer ammunition would have arrived at Almeida.

Thus the siege would be conducted using guns only, but unlike the previous two failed sieges of Badajoz all the guns would be new iron models.

The campaign began rather inauspiciously as it snowed heavily on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of January followed by violent gales and sleet on the 4th through which the siege divisions advanced to take up their positions around the city.

Lieutenant William Grattan of the 88th Connaught Rangers recorded details of their march;

"The morning of the 4th of January was dreadfully inauspicious. The order for marching arrived at three o'clock, and we were under arms at five. The rain fell in torrents, and the village of Aldea de Ponte, which the brigade of General Mackinnon occupied, was a sea of filth; the snow on the surrounding hills drifted down with the flood and nearly choked up the roads, and the appearance of the morning was anything but a favourable omen for us, who had a march of nine leagues to make ere we reached the town of Robleda on the River Agueda, which was destined to be our resting place for the night.

At half past six the brigade was in motion, and I scarcely remember a more disagreeable day; the rain which had fallen in the morning was succeeded by snow and sleet, and some soldiers, who sunk from cold and fatigue, fell down exhausted, soon became insensible and perished; yet, strange to say, an Irishwoman of my regiment was delivered of a child upon the road, and continued the march with her infant in her arms."

With both Dorsenne and Marmont now short of troops, Wellington was confident that the French would be in no position to break the siege.

As the investment around the walls was secured the garrison stood at just short of 2,000 French troops, primarily composed of one battalion each of the 34th Legere (975 men), 113rd Ligne (577 men) and 168 artillery men; much lower than the Spanish garrison of 1810, and indicating the risk Marmont was taking on gambling that Wellington would not launch a winter siege of the city, and with supplies enough to carry the garrison through to the spring.

Major Alexander Gordon, Wellington's ADC wrote on the 7th January;

"Rodrigo will be invested tomorrow. The trenches will be opened either that night or on the 9th ... I am in great hopes of getting it; altho' I think we have but eighteen or twenty days to spare. If in that time we are able to make a practicable breach, I think we shall certainly take the town, but after that period I am of opinion the enemy will be able to collect here in force and oblige us to raise the siege. There is a very weak garrison which is much in our favour but the season of the year is such as to render our operations very precarious and uncertain."

As the divisions marched to take up their positions around the walls, amid the occasional cannonading, Rifleman Costello got a good look at the defences, commenting that they;

"afforded only a subject for jest; as I believe at that time, such was the confidence that filled our ranks of our division, it would have been difficult to persuade the men that they could not beat the French under any odds."

The view from our hotel balcony looking north along the wall and the access route taken by the five companies of the 2/5th Northumberland Foot to clear the outer ditch

As with the French siege in 1810, the Allies planned to position their guns atop the the southern forward slopes of the Great Teson and as with the French siege, following the investment of the city, they needed to deal with enemy positions outside of the wall to allow that to happen; with the added complication of having to deal with the new French emplacement, Fort Renaud, built on the forward slopes, designed to impede such work.

The map below illustrates the eventual trench lines and assault routes used by the Allies together with the city defences, and Fort Renaud can be seen in black/grey outline amid the Allied parallels on the right front slope of the Great Teson.

In addition you can see amazing LIDAR, pictures of the modern day Great Teson showing the ground penetrating laser images of the works, including Fort Reynaud, here:


In addition the extent of the two fortified convents together with the defended suburbs are also shown.

Mounting two cannon and a howitzer, the fire from Fort Renaud overlapped with that of the Convent of Santa Cruz and was supported by fire from the Convent of San Francisco and the city walls.

Its design was essentially an earthen fleche with a palisaded/revetted twenty foot deep ditch to its front with a protected rampart. The rear however was just a loop-holed light brick wall, which if the position was taken by the enemy would provide little cover from the city walls making it hard to hold once taken.

Colonel John Colbourne of the 52nd Light Infantry was ordered to lead the attack on the fort on the night of the 8th of January, leading 450 men of the Light Division from the dead ground on the northern slope of the Great Teson, without a preliminary bombardment to enhance the element of surprise.

He planned to lead the attack with four companies, including two of rifles, surmounting the glacis and providing suppressive fire against the garrison, as an engineer party advanced with ladders to enable follow up troops of four more companies with one more held in reserve, to descend into the ditch and then up the forward side of the rampart to engage the defenders.

The assault force formed up in close column of companies and at 2000 hours the escalade force moved forward.

Colborne described the attack:

"When about fifty yards from the redoubt I gave the word 'double quick'. This movement and the rattling of canteens alarmed the garrison; but the defenders had only time to fire one round from their guns before each company had taken its post on the crest of the glacis and opened fire. All this was effected without the least confusion and not a man was seen in the redoubt after the fire had commenced."

Major John Jones', Royal Engineers, sketch of Fort Renaud

The signal for the next phase of the attack to begin was a shout of 'England and St George', that brought forward the teams carrying ladders and facines.

Major Jones described the crossing of the ditch;

"Lieutenant Jones, who accompanied the detachment with a party of sappers carrying scaling ladders, fascines, axes, etc. on arriving at the counterscarp, finding the palisades to be within three feet of it and nearly of the same height, immediately placed the fascines from one to another and formed a bridge, by which a part of the storming party walked over the palisades and jumped into the ditch; where finding the scarp without revetment they readily scrambled to the top of the parapet and came into contact with the bayonets of the defenders.

It seems the suppressive fire was so effective that the assault groups were only assailed by grenades and shells thrown over the parapet into the ditch by the garrison, with most of these having the fuses stamped out and with only a few casualties caused by them.

Lieutentant Gurwood of the 52nd, finding little for his marksmen to do, lead his party with scaling ladders to the rear wall of the redoubt and began to climb it as a French sergeant appeared at the rear gate and lit a shell.

The French soldier was promptly shot, but the shell rolled away fizzing and the subsequent explosion blew in the rear gate, expediting the entry of Gurwood's party.

With attackers to their front and rear and outnumbered four to one, the French garrison promptly surrendered, with only four escaping back to the city, the rest having barricaded themselves in the guardhouse to escape bayonet and sword.

Forty-eight men of the seventy-three man garrison were taken prisoner, with many of them getting a bit of rough handling from the Portuguese Cacadores on capture, unsurprising given French treatment of Portuguese civilians in the three previous invasions of their country.

The surprise attack caught the garrison of Ciudad Rodrigo off guard, but when the loss of the fort became apparent to them they immediately started to pound the emplacement from the walls, quickly dismantling the rearward defences and causing Colonel Colborne to pull the bulk of his force out of it, leaving a covering force in the dead ground between the two Teson's to prevent French troops coming forward to reoccupy it overnight.

Lieutenant Colonel John Colborne, 52nd Light Infantry 

The swift capture of Fort Reynaud added yet more to the reputation of the Light Division and in particular to the newly-arrived Colonel Colborne, who made a solid start to establishing his own reputation as one of the finest commanding officers in the Peninsular Army.

Major George Napier ADC wrote of him;

"The Colonel formed his party and gave his orders so explicitly, and so clearly made every officer understand what he was to do, that no mistake could possibly be made. The consequence was that in twenty minutes, from the time he moved to the attack, the fort was stormed and carried."

And of course we had some stunning neighbours close by.

Immediately following the taking of Fort Reynaud, the rest of the Light Division broke ground on the Greater Teson on the the flank of the redoubt, with work on the first parallel, whilst the French concentrated their fire during the night on the captured redoubt.

Wellington established a rota for the Light, 1st, 3rd and 5th divisions, based in and around neighbouring villages, to provide working parties on the trenches and the necessary guards, with the 1st Division taking over from the Light Division on the 9th January.

With the French clearly not having the range established on the Allied works in the early stages of the dig, casualties from daytime firing were relatively light.

Work progressed rapidly over the next two days and on the 11th January the thirty-eight guns (thirty-four 24 lbrs and four 18 lbrs) of the siege train were brought forward from Almeida and formed into an artillery park.

Starting our tour of the city on the walls near our hotel we walked anti-clockwise from the castle and its position overlooking the Roman bridge, across which Colonel Bryan O'Toole lead the 2nd Cacadores.

The next day was particularly cold and the Light Division were back at work, this time under much more accurate French fire, the garrison now having had time to range in and now with ever more targets to aim at.

Major John Jones RE recorded;

"The artillery fire of the place, however, became hot and so accurate, that it was impossible to continue the evacuation of the ditches. Shells were constantly dropping into them, and exploding amongst the party employed there. 

After many casualties had been thus occasioned, the men were retired, and cover had to be obtained by extending the rear excavation. Another great impediment was caused by the salvoes of shells fired by the garrison, which bedding themselves in the earthwork, and exploding more or less simultaneously, acted like small mines, frequently blowing away large masses of parapet, and undoing in a moment the work of hours.

In spite of all these difficulties the Engineers succeeded in pushing forward, and on the night of the 12th the emplacements were ready for the carpenters, who began to lay the gun platforms."

The wall terminates at this part of the castle enclosure
As the work continued a new phase in the siege began to develop as sharpshooters were deployed to engage enemy gunners on the walls.

Now Captain, Jonathan Leach, described this new roll for the men of the 1/95th Rifles;

"Some companies of our regiment were sent out of the trenches, after it was dark, to get as near the town as possible, and to fire at the artillerymen through the embrasures. If this operation was a disagreeable one to the enemy, it was far from a delectable one for us; they threw fire-balls among us, which were composed of such combustible matter, that they could not easily be extinguished, and made everything near them as visible as broad day. The moment we were perceived, musketry and grape were served out with no sparing hand. 

When relieved by the 1st Division on the 13th, we went through the same fiery ordeal again, from every piece of ordnance which the garrison could make use of."

On the 12th of January, Wellington heard that two messages from General Barrie, explaining his situation and requesting help, had been intercepted, but could not be sure that other such messages had not already found their way to Marshal Marmont.

General de Division Jean-Marie-Pierre-Francois Dorsenne

What Wellington could not know or expect was that Marmont had received three messages on the 1st, 3rd and 5th of January from General Dorsenne based in Salamanca warning him of likely imminent moves by Wellington, but, having been used to similar reports over the previous six months, was slow to react and thus only started to issue orders to his troops once he received definite news of the siege, three days later on the 15th January.

Looking along the wall walkway above the River Agueda

With the work on the trenches progressing ever closer to the walls of the city, there developed a need to build the parapets even thicker which took even more time, a commodity that was short on the Allied planning list, and thus Wellington ordered an early establishment of the gun batteries to start  battering the walls and which would require the neutralising of the nearest French positions, namely the two repaired convents now each mounting two cannon and a howitzer that could be brought to bear directly in enfilade to impede Allied plans.

The closest of these positions to the Allied trenches was Santa Cruz, for which Wellington ordered Baron Lowe's, Kings German Infantry Brigade of 1st Division, together with support from fellow Germans in the 60th Rifles.

Little is recorded of the attack, but it seems undercover of a deception plan, the KGL managed to force their way into the structure past palisades constructed in the damaged sections, that so surprised the defenders that they fled leaving their arms and baggage and the KGL with three killed and thirty-four men wounded.

Although well protected by the river below the city wall still presents with a formidable scarp down to the road below

The classic sentry boxes are common to all the fortresses seen here in the Peninsular as we discovered at other sites

With the fall of Santa Cruz, work began immediately that same night, to dig the second parallel along the top of the Lesser Teson, only 200 yards from the walls and French guns.

The next day, 14th January the French garrison changed tactics and adopted an approach that was used regularly by the Spanish during the 1810 siege, namely sallying forth from the wall to attack working teams and destroy the trenches.

The French garrison had been observing Wellington's divisional change overs from the cathedral and had spotted that troops providing the security details pulled back with their work teams instead of waiting to be relieved by the new divisional security units as the new division got into the trenches.

A gun embrasure over looking the corner of the city as it turns away from the river, close to the St. Pelay Gate

Thus at 1100 hours on the 14th they timed their sally to coincide with 4th Division's relief units, still to arrive, leaving the trenches manned by gunners, sappers and engineers alone to face five-hundred French infantry who came out from a gate below the castle, overwhelmed the defenders in Santa Cruz, and pressed on over to the second parallel to tip over gabions, confiscate tools and destroy much of the previous night's digging.

Working parties from the 2/24th and 1/42nd Foot fight to defend the trench workings during the French sally on the 14th January 1812

Major John Jones RE left an account of the French sortie;

"The danger was imminent that the assailants would penetrate to the batteries and succeed in spiking the guns. This however was obviated by the bravery of an Engineer officer, who collected as many of the workmen not belonging to the retiring division as he could get together, and manned the parapets, keeping up such a steady fire that the advance was checked sufficiently long to enable the relieving division to rush forward to the rescue. The column was driven back into the town, the damage done by them being confined to the overthrow of the gabions fixed on the previous night."

The area where Brigadier General Pack's five battalions of Portuguese troops made their attack over the glacis slope, down into the ditch and quickly up the scaling ladders to attack the defences around the gate.

Plan of the Allied siege works and battery positions

Despite the sally, the Allied guns were ready to open fire at 16.00 hours as Batteries No.1 and 3 engaged the north west corner of the wall where the French siege had breached.

The Duke of Wellington, adopted different tactics when deploying his siege guns, very much
considering the well-being of Spanish and Portuguese citizens held captive by a French garrison

Wellington adopted key changes to his bombardment planning that ran contrary to established thinking at the time.

Firstly he ordered twenty out of twenty-seven of the guns to focus their fire on the repaired French breach and not to engage the French guns defending the walls in the usual tactic of knocking them out first before starting to create a breach, obviously time constraints would have been a dictating factor here.

Secondly, as stated earlier, he did not wait to bring up mortars and their associated ammunition trains, deciding to use only his iron 24 lbr and 18 lbr guns, explaining his thoughts in a letter written later during the siege of Badajoz.

"In all the sieges which I have carried on in this country I have used only the fire of guns, principally from entertaining an opinion that fire of mortars and howitzers has an effect upon the inhabitants of a town alone; and that a French garrison in a Spanish or Portuguese town would be but little likely to attend to the wishes or feelings of its inhabitants. 

By this measure I have diminished considerably the excesses and difficulty of these operations, and at all events, whether successful or not, I have done no injury to the Spanish or Portuguese inhabitants."

Captain Edward Cocks

This considered approach did not go without counter-argument from others in his army, as Captain Edward Cocks related;

"It is a principle of his to avoid the use of mortars: 'The way to take a place,' I heard him say, 'is to make a hole in the wall by which the troops can get in and mortars never do this, they are not worth the expenditure of transport they require.' 

Well this is all very well against such a place as Ciudad Rodrigo, but it would sacrifice men against a more respectable fortress."

Two 18 lbrs were detailed to fire at the Convent of San Francisco as part of a softening up process in preparation for an attack on the strongpoint that night by the 40th Somersetshire Foot who advanced under the cover of darkness and entered the place, taking the garrison by surprise.

Surgeon Charles Boutflower who accompanied the assault group recorded his experience;

"I then volunteered with a few men to march up on to the tower where the guns were situated, a priest being made to show us the way, as the path which we had to tread was so winding. When we arrived at the top, which must have taken us at least ten minutes, we found no French there, but the three shattered cannon still remained, which we were ordered to pitch down, not much improving their condition therby, and so we gained the object for which we had come. 

All the French that were left in the convent, or at least all I saw there, were two of their wounded, but they were good enough to leave us a room full of cabbages, which came in very handy."

The 40th Foot would remain in the convent and the nearby suburbs as a garrison for the rest of the siege.

The great aspect of Ciudad Rodrigo is that the town seems to have protected the charm of the buildings within the city walls

As well as taking the Convent of San Francisco that night, repairs were made to the damaged second parallel in preparation for an additional fifth battery position to closely engage the wall, and a forward sap to the foot of the glacis.

In addition to the interior, the exterior defences have also been well preserved, keeping modern developments well back

The next five days interspersed with periods of early morning fog, would see additional battery positions opened and the siege guns work away at effecting the main breach together with the continued work to repair damage inflicted by the intact French guns atop the main wall.

With French return fire unsuppressed, the days of bombardment were not without risk for those in the trenches and outlying positions, as Corporal Lawrence of the 40th Foot related, who was part of the garrison in the Convent of San Francisco;

"Now and then the garrison would greet us with a cannon-ball, which often did some little mischief; a sergeant was killed by one, which at the same time took another's arm off, and I myself had a narrow escape one day whilst in the breastworks, from a six-pounder which having struck the convent, rebounded and caught me in the chest. Luckily it was nearly spent, but as it was it knocked me down, and it was some time before I could recover my breath, and that not until my comrades had poured some rum and water down my throat. 

My chest was much discoloured and swollen, through which I was ill for nearly a week."

The Salamanca gate and guard house

On the 16th January the Allied fire had done enough damage to the north west corner for Wellington to declare a practicable breach and to summon General Barrie to surrender the fortress.

He, under orders from Napoleon, as were all French garrison commanders, not to accept a summons to surrender until at least one assault had been made, promptly refused.

This policy of Napoleon flew in the face of the accepted rules of siege warfare that generally saw garrisons facing defending a practicable breach, not to put the assaulters to the test of forcing it, knowing that they and the town were liable to no quarter from the attacking force should they obtain entry, and thus avoiding unnecessary bloodshed for all parties involved.

General Barrie's later assertion that the Allied assault caught him by surprise, expecting a second such summons before it, and that he did not have a chance to seriously consider accepting terms was, of course nonsense, and much of the later grief occasioned by forcing Allied soldiers to endure the horrors of assaulting a defended breach lay directly in the responsibility of Barrie and his commander the Emperor Napoleon.

Looking along the wall from the Salamanca Gate towards the section of wall where the Lesser Breach was effected

Thus the Allies settled down to three more days of bombardment to further widen the main breach and on the 19th of January topple a tower on the north wall close by to create a secondary lesser breach with its rubble bridging the intervening main ditch.

During that day Wellington toured the trenches with Colonel Fletcher and Major Dickson and after assessing the damage to the walls and the rubble slope created, declared the breaches practicable and sat in the trenches to write his orders for the attack that would take place that night.

The plan as depicted below looked very much to stretch General Barrie's small garrison to the limits with multiple attacks at different points around the city but with the emphasis on supporting the troops attempting to gain access via the breaches.

The attack was timed to commence at 1900 hours thus gaining the cover of darkness to hide the movements of the assaulting columns from the defenders on the walls, but also to give the French very little time to make good the damage inflicted in the day or to prepare counter-defences around the breaches.

Wellington's Assault Plan for the Storming of Ciudad Rodrigo

The British firing had prevented any repair efforts on the main breach, but the French had already managed to complete retrenchments, lay mines and site flanking cannon behind the breach inside the remaining city wall.

Having had to come off the wall due to repair works on top of it, we walked into the town and discovered the house occupied by Wellington after the Allied siege. The Palacio de los Avila in the Plaza del Conde

The main assault would be preceded at 1850 hours by two smaller operations designed to draw defenders away from the main breach, Colonel O'Toole leading the 2nd Cacadores and the Light Company of the 2/83rd County of Dublin Regiment attacking a small emplacement below the castle wall where two French cannon enfiladed the approach route that the 2/5th Foot would use to gain entry to the moats and faussebraye along which they would move, clearing French troops as they advanced towards the main breach.

The second attack would be from General Pack's Portuguese Brigade who were ordered to make a demonstration against the San Pelyo Gate.

The assault on the greater breach would be delivered by General Picton's 3rd 'Fighting' Division, fast asserting their position as Wellington's 'turn to' primary assault division and with the attack specifically to be led by Mackinnon's Brigade and with the 5th Foot operating to their right flank as detailed with the rest of Campbell's brigade moving to support them from behind the Santa Cruz Convent.

A typical column for conducting a storming attack upon a breach - taken from Saunders
'The Sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo 1810 & 1812' 

The assault on the lesser breach would be conducted by Wellington's other turn to assault division, General Craufurd's Light Division, moving out from behind the cover of the San Francisco Convent, being led into the breach by Vandeleur's Brigade, detaching three companies of 95th Riflemen to support the attack on the greater breach.

As mentioned the interior of the town still retains in old charm, although these narrow streets would have been in a terrible state of turmoil following the taking of the city by British troops, enraged at being forced to endure the horror of a storming

Both attacks on each breach would be led by a 'forlorn hope' of volunteers who would be the first troops into them using the route prepared by the sappers and engineers who would be laying fascines ahead of them to minimise the drop into the two moats until the attackers could climb back out on the rubble ramp.

The officer who volunteered to lead the forlorn hope into the greater breach was Lieutenant Mackie of the 88th Connaught Rangers supported by soldiers from his regiment.

Major General Sir Thomas Picton, commander of 3rd Division

During the afternoon General Picton addressed the battalions in his division and according to Lieutenant Grattan said, 'It is not my intention to expend any powder this evening. We'll do this with cold iron.'

Grattan noted;

"The soldiers listened to the communication with silent earnestness, and immediately began to dis encumber themselves of their knapsacks, which were placed in order by companies and a guard set over them. Each man then began to arrange himself for the combat in such a manner as his fancy or the moment would admit of, some by lowering their cartridge-boxes, others by turning theirs to the front in order that they might more conveniently make use of them; others unclasping their stocks or opening their shirt collars; others oiling their bayonets; and more taking leave of their wives and children."

Around the next corner we picked up the wall at the position of the Lesser Breach, stormed by the Light Division and where General Craufurd was killed.

Major Napier of the Light Division similarly ordered his soldiers not to load their muskets and rifles in case of misfires alerting the enemy of their approach and when challenged about this order by one of Wellington's staff officers replied;

"Because if we do not do the business with the bayonet without firing we shall not do it at all, so I shall not load."

Wellington, close by and overhearing the exchange, rebuked his ADC instructing that Napier be allowed to make his own arrangements as he saw fit.

Major General Robert Craufurd, dynamic and charismatic leader of the Light Division,
killed whilst leading the division, standing on top of the glacis in front of the Lesser Breach and later buried
 with full honours at the foot of it. He was just 47 when he died

General Craufurd also addressed the soldiers in his division stating;

"Soldiers! The eyes of your country are upon you. Be steady, be cool, be firm in the assault. The town must be yours tonight. Once masters of the wall, let your first duty be to clear the ramparts, and in doing this keep together."

The two plaques indicate the rebuilt section of wall that was collapsed to form the second smaller breach

Lieutenant Colonel O'Toole and his soldiers waited in cover on the far bank of the River Agueda, before making their dash across the Roman bridge with scaling ladders to begin the assault, by climbing the walls at the base of the castle, to gain access to the small walled position and its gun battery.

Storming across the bridge under fire from French soldiers manning the wall, they quickly scrambled up the ladders and into the position, overwhelming the gunners and capturing the two cannon within minutes before turning their attention to breaking down the doors into the castle close by, using pioneer axes, thus being the first Allied soldiers to break into the fortress.

The Memorial Plaque to Major General Robert Craufurd placed by the Royal Green Jackets
'To the memory of Major General Robert Craufurd and those of the 43rd and 52nd Light Infantry and the 95th Rifles of the Light Division, which he commanded with such distinction, and of their comrades of the 60th, all of whom fell in the storming of the breaches, through which Ciudad Rodrigo was liberated on the 19th February 1812.

This plaque is erected by their heirs, Royal Green Jackets, mindful of the historic efforts by the Spanish and British to free the Peninsula 1808-1813.'

As O'Toole was pressing his attack, Brigadier General Sir Denis Pack was leading his brigade of five battalions of Portuguese infantry towards the south-east side of the city to make a false attack on the defences around the (St Jago) St Pelyo Gate and it was not expected that the attack would lead to a full escalade of the city wall.

The Portuguese troops moved quickly over the glacis slope and down into the ditches before using their scaling ladders to gain access to the defences.

Major Jones RE described their attack;

"the Portuguese, under Brigadier General Pack, spiritedly escaladed the small bastion in front of the gate of St Jago, defended by a small guard, which they overpowered and bayoneted; but no attempt was made to escalade the main rampart, on account of its great height, and the double obstacle created by the fausebraye."

The attack was not without significant loss to the 'spirited' Portuguese troops, suffering 114 casualties, a significant total given that the total casualties for the storming amounted to about 560 men.

Walking through the gate to the outside of the wall, you get the view from the perspective of the soldiers of the Light Division, except it would have been in silhouette against the night sky, until lit up by the massive explosion of the French mine, amid the debris of the breach. See the illustration above.

The massive ditch in front of the breach would have been partially filled with rubble falling into it from the breached wall, added to by the hay bails dropped into it by the forward parties, allowing soldiers to get into and out of this formidable obstacle whilst being fired at from the walls by small arms and artillery

The signal for the assault on the main breach to begin was when a signal rocket arched into the night sky at 1900 hours.

Major Jones RE described the attack;

"At the appointed hour the attack commenced ... and immediately a heavy discharge of musketry was opened from the trenches, under cover of which 150 sappers, directed by Captain Macleod and Lieutenant Thompson, Royal Engineers, and Captain Thompson of the 74th Regiment, advanced from the second parallel to the crest of the glacis, each man carrying two bags filled with hay, which they threw down the counterscarp into the ditch, and having reduced its depth from 13.5 feet to 8 feet, fixed the ladders upon the bags."

The wall still betrays a patchwork of different coloured stones indicating the repairs to the breach

The path up the main ditch leading to the Great Breach close by, a section of wall breached by both the French and Allied sieges

The attacking columns entering the great breach were met with a deluge of firing, from French infantry drawn up to meet them and enfiladed by French cannon.

Lieutenant Grattan described the demeanour of the soldiers in 3rd Division as they closed with the enemy;

"In place of that joyous animation ... a look of severity, bordering on ferocity, had taken its place, there was, most unquestionably, a savage expression in the faces of the men that I have never before witnessed. Such is the difference between the storm of a breach and fighting a pitched battle."

The now repaired corner section of the main wall that was collapsed into the ditch to create the Great Breech over which Picton's 3rd Division pressed their assault

A mine is exploded under troops entering the breach at Ciudad Rodrigo

Following the same rocket signal the Light Division simultaneously began its attack on the lesser breach.

Lieutenant George Simmons, 95th Rifles described the approach to it;

"A tremendous fire was opened upon us, and as our column was entering the ditch an expense magazine on the ramparts near the large breach blew up and ignited a number of live shells, which also exploded and paid no sort of difference to friend or foe.

The night was brilliantly illuminated for some moments, and everything was made visible. Then as suddenly came utter darkness, except for the flashes from cannon and muskets, which threw a momentary glare around."

With their night vision affected by the light returning to dark, soldiers became disorientated and confused about the direction of the attack.

All is now a scene of peace and tranquility, over-watched by a local Lark keen to get his picture taken

However officers and men continued to feel their way forward and the mistake was soon rectified as friends called out the direction to follow, bringing them up to a single gun, angled down, that the French had placed in an attempt to block the way onto the wall.

Major Napier described the attack at this stage and was probably caught by the fire from this gun;

"When about two-thirds up, I received a grapeshot which smashed my elbow and a great part of my arm; and on falling, the men, who thought I was killed, checked for a few moments, and forgetting they were not loaded commenced snapping their muskets. I immediately called out 'Recollect you are not loaded; push on with the bayonet.' Upon this the whole gave a loud 'huzzah' and driving all before them, carried the breach."

Again the view point from outside the wall as seen by the soldiers of 3rd Division

Rifleman Costello was close by at the time and recalled;

"Major Napier, who was close by my side encouraging on the men, received a shot, and, staggering back, would in all probability have fallen into the trench, had I not caught him. 

To my brief inquiry if he was badly hurt, he squeezed my hand, whilst his other arm hung shattered by his side, saying, 'Never mind me - push on, my lads, the town is ours!' And so indeed it was, our men entering it pell-mell."

This row of guns indicates a battery that would have been kept very busy during both the French and Allied sieges, facing as it does the battery positions atop the Great Teson

The Light Division carried the wall with its first charge urged forward by General Craufurd standing atop the glacis slope and clearly identifiable as the commander and as such fell victim to a French marksman on the walls less than fifty yards away.

Major General Robert Craufurd directing the Light Division at the Lesser Breach - William Barnes Wollen

The ball passed through his arm, broke through his ribs, passing through a part of his lung and lodged in his spine, spinning him over and back down the glacis slope, from where he was dragged by his ADC, Captain Shaw-Kennedy into cover.

Looking through the embrasure towards the Great Teson. Recent LIDAR pictures of ground penetrating airborne lazer light has shown amazing pictures of the Allied and potentially French trench works and gun positions on the hill now covered up and otherwise unseen.

The repaired section of the wall where the Great Breach was effected and the likely spot where Sergeant Brazil, and Privates Swan and Kelly fought the French gun team

With the lesser breach carried and Portuguese troops now in the southern part of the town, Picton's men were held on top of the wall facing the greater breach by two French cannon placed either side of the access and able to rake the approach with canister.

The French gunners having fired and stalled 3rd Division in its assault were working feverishly to reload their guns for a second devastating discharge.

Lieutenant Grattan described the situation;

"The French cannoniers, five in number, stood to, and served their gun with as much sangfroid as if on parade ... but this was of no avail. Men going to storm a breach generally make up their minds that there is no great probability of their ever returning from it to tell their adventures to their friends; and whether they die at the bottom or top of it, or at the muzzle, or upon the breech of a cannon, is to them pretty nearly the same."

The gunners were soon overwhelmed by the sheer number of soldiers pressing forward, determined to gain access to the wall and town.

Monuments festoon the walls of the rebuilt main breach

An excellent illustration a private in the 88th Foot,
as part of the storming party -Gerry Embleton

Sergeant Brazil and two of his soldiers, Private Swan and Kelly were up to the guns, and Grattan continues his description of what happened next;

".... the three men passed the trench in a moment, and engaged the French cannoniers hand to hand; a terrific but short combat was the consequence.

Swan was the first, and was met by the two gunners on the right of the gun, but, no way daunted, he engaged them, and plunged his bayonet into the breast of one; he was about to repeat the blow upon the other, but before he could disentangle the weapon from his bleeding adversary, the second Frenchman closed upon him, and by coup de sabre severed his left arm from his body ... he fell from the shock, and was on the eve of being massacred, when Kelly, after having scrambled under the gun, rushed onward to succour his comrade.

He bayoneted two Frenchmen on the spot, and at this instant Brazil came up; three of the five gunners lay lifeless, while Swan, resting against an ammunition chest, was bleeding to death. 

It was now equal numbers, two against two, but Brazil in his over-anxiety to engage was near losing his life at the onset; in making a lunge at the man next to him, his foot slipped upon the bloody platform, and he fell forward against his antagonist, but as both rolled under the gun, Brazil felt the socket of his bayonet strike hard against the buttons of the Frenchman's coat.

The remaining gunner, in attempting to escape under the carriage from Kelly, was killed by some soldiers of the 5th, who just now reached the top of the breach, and seeing the serious dispute at the gun, pressed forward to the assistance of the three men of the Connaught Rangers."

Modern monuments are also placed a ground level

At the same instant as the breach was on the point of being taken the night was rent by a massive explosion that stunned friend and foe alike as the wall was shaken to its very foundation.

Lieutenant Grattan continued his account;

"Mackinnon, at the head of his brigade, was blown into the air. His aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Beresford of the 88th, shared the same fate, and every man on the breach at that moment of the explosion perished ...

The grave of Lieutenant John Beresford, General Mackinnon's ADC, who died from wounds received in the main breach at Ciudad Rodrigo. My picture taken a few days later on our visit to Almeida.

Others were so stunned by the shock, or wounded by stones which were hurled forth by the explosion, that they were insensible to their situation; of this number I was one, for being close to the magazine when it blew up, I was quite overpowered, and I owed my life to the Sergeant Major of the regiment, Thorp, who saved me from being trampled to death by our soldiers in their advance, ere I could recover strength sufficient to move forward to protect myself."

Grattan was mistaken in assuming a magazine had exploded as it was in fact a mine ignited by the French garrison.

The explosion was so massive that even soldiers of the Light Division breaking through the lesser breach only 150 yards away were caught in the fall out of flying masonry and debris, as recounted by Lieutenant Cooke;

"I ran towards the large breach, and met an officer slowly walking between two soldiers of the Rifle Corps. I asked who it was, when he replied, 'Uniacke' and walked on. One of his eyes was blown out, and the flesh was torn off his arms and legs. He had taken chocolate with our mess an hour and a half before! He died in excruciating agony!"

Julian Sanchez, 'El Charro' one of the more effective guerrilla leaders whose mounted
troops liaised closely with the Spanish garrison and Wellington's army, constantly harassing French troops in the area

The memorial to El Charro, who ended up being very badly treated by the Spanish monarchy on its restoration after the war

The explosion in the main breach only delayed the inevitable and 3rd Division were not to be denied access as the 45th Foot stormed into the same area that had been fought over by Sergeant Brazil and the other soldiers of the 88th Foot.

The French soldiers wavered and then fled back into the city streets taking parting shots from British soldiers swarming over the wall.

A somewhat uniformed appearance suggested in this Osprey plate depicting Sanchez's troops. Other contemporary sources  suggest a more grey than blue appearance (ass seen in the illustration below), and the likelihood is that the dress of these men would have been much more varied 

The French garrison made its way to the Plaza Mayor where they lay down their arms and were given quarter to surrender.

Two hundred British soldiers were soon on the scene and 1,300 French soldiers together with sixty of their officers were taken prisoner.

Close behind the breached section of wall is the city cathedral, bearing the scars of two sieges

As a fore taste of the disorder that would follow the capitulation of the garrison, Rifleman Costello reported that the stormers;

"next took possession of the market place, where they commenced huzzahing and firing the air."

The damage on the front end of this building is astonishing, with the missing chunks of stonework giving a clear indication of the size of shot hitting it

The damage caused has been shored up in places but in a way that still allows the modern viewer to take in the extent of the damage

General Barrie and his staff, wisely, barricaded themselves within the castle, rather than be caught by the battle raged Allied soldiers they had just forced to go through the hell of fighting for a breach.

There they waited for the opportunity to offer their swords to British officers as the ceremony of planting the Colours went on outside.

The shot that missed the wall and scarp or delivered a glancing blow, had the top of the bell tower to stop its progress into the town. The cathedral made an obvious aiming point for both French and Allied gunners as born out by its walls.

As to which British officer arrived at the castle first to accept Barrie's surrender became a matter of contention between 3rd and Light Divisions as both leaders of their respective forlorn hopes survived the breaches for one reason or another and both made their way to the castle.

Thus both officers had their tale to tell as to what happened afterwards, seemingly arriving at the castle within minutes of each other.

Consensus of opinion suggests Lieutenant Mackie of the 88th arrived first and took the sword from Barrie, but it was Lieutenant Gurwood of the 52nd Light Infantry who received the honour of being mentioned in Wellington's dispatches as taking the surrender.

Of course a neutral would declare the situation, 'honours even' but that would not have suited either of these two very proud Peninsular Army Divisions.

Even the wing of the building several yards further back from the tower ended up catching its share of overshoots

The sack of Ciudad Rodrigo

As the wounded were left lying in the ruins on the breaches, trouble started within the city and order started to break down rapidly as those characters most likely to lead in a state of anarchy started to take full advantage of the situation and the vacuum of command that now existed so soon after the storming.

Around the corner from the cathedral is the Plaza Mayor and city hall where Barrie's garrison surrendered en mass

Lieutenant Grattan described the scenes of what followed as the 88th broke into Spanish houses and their tactics for dealing with their heavy door locks;

"remarkable for their strength, and resembled those of a prison more than anything else; their locks are of huge dimensions, and it is a most difficult task to force them.

The mode adopted by the men of my regiment in this dilemma was as effective as it was novel; the muzzles of a couple of muskets were applied to each side of the keyhole, while a third soldier, fulfilling the functions of an officer, deliberately gave the word, 'make ready' - 'present' - 'fire!' and in an instant the ponderous lock gave way before the combined operations of the three individuals, and doors that rarely opened to the knock of a stranger in Rodrigo now flew of their hinges to receive the Rangers of Connaught."

The city and population of an allied country was now subjected to a night of some of the worst excesses of wanton destruction committed by drunken soldiers, having no respect for law, military or civil.

Allied officers patrolled the city with groups of trusted soldiers to help curb the worst excesses and to try and protect the most vulnerable, but order was not restored until dawn the next day as the ardour of the two storming divisions cooled and the men could be marched out of the city, still often carrying their ill-gotten booty from the night's excesses.

Lieutenant Colonel Bryan O'Toole, commander of the 2nd Cacadores

As well as a captured French garrison, tens of British deserters were also rounded up to face divisional court martial and needing to find referees of their previous good behaviour before deserting to avoid the firing squad; forty men from the Light Division were rounded up with six subsequently being executed.

The main gate close to the castle through which five-hundred men of the French garrison sallied out on the 14th January to attack the working parties of 4th Divisions arriving to commence work on the second parallel.

Wellington entered and toured the city on the 20th January, already keen to start the process of repairing the damage and to make the city fit to repel any French attempt at its immediate recapture.

He made his headquarters in the magnificent Palacio de los Avila in the Plaza del Conde, that still retains all the charm that no doubt drew the eye of the Allied commander.

2nd Cacadores

By the 25th of January the city was brought back into a defensible state of repair, during which the body of General Craufurd, by order of Wellington, was buried at the foot of the lesser breach, having died of his wounds on the 23rd.

Surgeon Charles Boutflower recorded;

"While there I witnessed the funeral of Genl. Craufurd, who died of his wound the preceding day; it was a very solemn and impressive ceremony, almost every rank in the Army being present; he was buried close to the Small Breach, on the spot where he received his wound; he is considered a real loss to the Service, tho' from the peculiarity of his disposition it is said he had attached but few people to him."

Looking down the road towards the Roman bridge over the Agueda. The two gun embrasures can be seen atop the wall that Colonel O'Toole and his 2nd Cacadores dealt with prior to the attack of the 2/5th Foot

Marmont had intended to have been before the city on the 29th of January, but with the city now captured and returned to a defensible state, he turned his army around and marched back to Salamanca.

As well as losing the city and its garrison, the French commander now found himself without a siege train to take it back with, as the Allies captured it, all 153 guns when the city fell into their hands.

Wellington had created a new paradigm in siege warfare with his coup of taking and capturing the city in a siege lasting just twelve days, contrasting dramatically with the weeks taken by the French in 1810 all be it against a much larger and more active Spanish garrison commanded by a more enthusiastic leader than General Barrie.

That said Wellington had now possession of one of the 'Keys' and had demonstrated his ability to yet again move swiftly and decisively to take advantage of any French weaknesses, something they would be subject to regularly from now on as the initiative in the war turned irrevocably in favour of the Allies.

The wall up which the 2nd Cacadores used scaling ladders to attack the French gunners manning the battery atop this position

Once O'Tooles men had dealt with the French guns they set about accessing the castle through some nearby doors with axes, becoming the first Allied soldiers to gain entry to the city.

Not everything had gone well or indeed to plan during the siege, but Wellington's team of artillery and engineer officers had gained massive experience on managing a fast moving siege process that would take advantage of the time it took for French commanders to bring their forces together to come to a garrison's relief.

The siege of Ciudad Rodrigo has gone down as probably the most successful to be carried out by Wellington's Peninsular Army, and by the 19th of February a new three thousand strong Spanish garrison was in place, with Spanish masons creating new revetments for the breaches, allowing the Allied commander to turn his thoughts towards possession of the other Spanish Key.

Looking out from the gun embrasures, with the sally gate under the castle and the access into the main ditch through which the 2/5th Foot gained entry to support the attack on the main breach further on around the corner from this part of the defences. 

Carolyn and I spent a good two days exploring the city and its surrounds and the fact that much of the original city and its defences still remain to be seen really rewards the time taken by those interested enough to come and see.

As well as the pictures of the walls and defences that featured in the accounts of the soldiers that took part in both sieges, I was keen to have a look at what remained close by, which included the areas occupied by the outer defences, namely the two Convents of Santa Cruz and San Franciso and the two Teson's where both sieges were initiated from.

Then slightly further away, along the banks of the River Agueda, we searched out the Monastery of Nuestra Senora de la Caridad which was the Head Quarters building taken over by Marshal Ney in the early stages of the French siege, later occupied by Marshal Massena as he came forward to oversee the operation with Ney relocating to the artillery park close to the lines.

The area of the gate battered down by the 2/5th Foot as they moved into the forward moat and used their scaling ladders to get on top of the faussebraye before moving to clear it in support of the main breach

The ground occupied by the former Convent of Santa Cruz is now occupied by a former bull ring

The last remaining open space on the Lesser Teson where the 3rd Division left the second parallel to attack the Great Breach in the position seen above. The rest of the Lesser Teson is now built over with modern apartments. I stood here imagining Capt. Macleod RE leading his 150 sappers off towards the crest of the glacis seen directly ahead.

Looking back from the Lesser Teson to the Greater Teson seen behind on which was the first parallel linking the various siege battery positions

The sad and forlorn remains of the Convent of San Francisco, the former stronghold and later prison, outside the main defences, surrounded by the modern city of Ciudad Rodrigo

The convent bears its scars for those taking the time to look

The Nuestra Senora de la Caridad monastery, three miles south east of Ciudad Rodrigo on the banks of the Agueda and the former HQ of Marshals Ney and Massena during the siege of 1810 

Finally, during our stay, I took some time to explore the small museum in the city dedicated to illustrating its role during the Guerra de la Independencia or Peninsular War, depending on your view point.

One of the big draws for me was to see the exquisite models of parts of the city as they would have looked during different times and under the various managements, made by master model maker Alberto Mateos Jurado.

The models are made from foam board to 1:56 scale and populated with what we wargamers would know as 28mm figures.

Below is a model of the Kings Gate demolished by the French in the siege of 1810, with infantry from the Majorca Regiment, part of the garrison at the time.

Next we have French troops, part of the garrison in 1810-12 crossing the San Felipe Bridge into the city.

And finally Spanish troops entering another of the city gates, but I couldn't determine precisely which it was; I think most likely the Salamanca Gate.

The museum staff were very friendly but extremely precious about photographs being taken of anything other than the models, something that I did not discover until after I had taken a few shots of the few weapons on display together with a superb collection of Goya illustrations depicting the horrors of the war.

At the top can be seen a small sword owned by El Charro, with a British 1796 Light Cavalry sable below and a French Chasseur Light Cavalry sabre below that. The heavier blade of the British weapon makes an interesting comparison with its French counterpart.

This chap should need no introduction!

Both Carolyn and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Ciudad Rodrigo, and somewhere I would heartily recommend seeing to anyone if the opportunity presents, but we had other places to go and see and one of the most interesting hotels that I have ever stayed in, situated right on the Spanish-Portuguese border.

Our next hotel on our Peninsular War adventure, and somewhere I was very excited to see.

Other sources referred to in the post;
British Sieges of the Peninsular War - Frederick Myatt


  1. Superb travelogue of your visit to Ciudad Rodrigo! Very enjoyable, Jonathan. Something I will return to again for inspiration.

  2. How much history have those old walls witnessed? I'm officially jealous of you, here in the States we have so little by way of historic land like that. The models are lovely. Thanks for your posting, keep up the good work!

  3. Wow, such a fantastic post...worth a visit, thanks for this informative and wonderful post!

  4. Thanks very much for your comments chaps. I'm very happy you are enjoying the read as much as I have enjoyed visiting and writing about this and the other places visited.